June 29, 2015
In this week's "welcome back" episode we discuss Riccardo "fluffypony" Spagni's trip to Europe, and the various meetups and conferences he spoke at.
Until next week!
Note: the Bitcoinference presentation video can be found on YouTube
Hello and welcome back to the Monero missives. I am Riccardo, fluffypony and with me today as always I have the fantastic Gingeropolous.
Hello everyone, welcome back.
It has been too long since our last conversation and that's my fault because I went on a little Monero tour of Europe, but now I am back.
The magical mystery Monero tour.
So now we are here to find out what the mystery is all about.
Yes, as some of them wondered what happened in Europe.
We saw some pictures from Brussels, I don't know where those were, with the tiny elevator.
Yes, it was Brussels and I was going to put more pictures up, but then between running around, being super busy and also Bitcointalk being down for like ages, I just gave up on that idea. So I'll try and put some photos up. I didn't unfortunately take much in the way of photos of the actual meetups and bitcoin friends, but that also because not everyone wants their picture taken and plastered all over Bitcointalk. Apparently I am the exception to that.
So basically to sort of give everyone a bit of overview. The reason I went to Europe was not just for Monero. I also went for a friends' wedding and to visit, for my wife and I, my in laws (her parents). Then we sort of coupled some stuff on top of that, which were the Monero meetups ,some Bitcoin meetups and the Bitcoinference. So we ended up having three Monero meetups, we had one in Brussels, one in Paris and one in Berlin. Then I also spoke at a Bitcoin meetup in Berlin where I spoke about OpenAlias and then lastly I went to Bitcoinference in Amsterdam and spoke at Bitcoinference also about Monero.
That's a lot of talking.
So, it's a lot of talking. Thankfully for the most part it was the same talk that I gave at all three. I mean, sorry, at all 4 of the meetups/conferences. Then obviously the OpenAlias talk was different, but it was more like a soft introduction to OpenAlias and a bit of a discussion about how we provide lookup privacy and that sort of thing.
So let me run through them one at the time and give a bit of an executive summary
That's sounds good, I am interested to hear what happened. Take it away
So the Brussels meetup was pretty amazing. It was organized by Binaryfate. One of the guys behind XMR.TO and it was very kindly hosted. The venue was provided by Peter Hintjes, the guy behind ZeroMQ and it was really, really good. We had quite a nice turnout. It was myself and David who were there and who spoke. Then also BinaryFate spoke and then there was also a talk by Thomas Spass about privacy and fungibility from a legal perspective. Which was very interesting as well. So, what sort of came out of those initial talks, the one by BinaryFate and the one by Thomas about privacy and fungibility was really an overview of why fungibility is such an important aspect of a currency and also why or what the consequences could be of Bitcoin not having fungibility. That's not to say Bitcoin is going to fail and I don't want to give anyone the impression that there was some sort of negativity towards Bitcoin, because there wasn't. It's just, you know, let's talk about this.
Then I gave my talk after David. David sort of gave an introduction as to a brief overview of Monero and then also an overview as to why privacy is important. Then I spoke a little bit more about some other aspects of the importance of privacy, but then I went into a little bit more detail about how Monero works. So afterwards we then hung around and had a bit of a braai?. Braai is the South African for barbecue , but we did it South African style. Which means that somebody else cooks and then everyone else just eats the food and pretends that they know how to cook. And you know, the beer flows, the usual. Then BinaryFate, Peter and myself were kind of the last to leave. Before I get to that, Peter kindly arranged for some guys (musicians) from I guess the DRC, can't really remember where they were from, but anyway. They were really cool guys and just jammed a bit on the guitars and sang and that was really awesome. It was like background music, but I mean live and that was nice. After the musicians packed up then eventually it was just BinaryFate, Peter and myself and we sat and spoke for like hours. A lot of the stuff, like the 6 month rolling hard fork, that we've been speaking about now and there is some other stuff that I've been putting down. A lot of that comes out of that conversation between BinaryFate, Peter and myself. I've written this all down in a post that I am putting up on the forum about some other changes that we want to make. But Peter, obviously as the guy behind ZeroMQ, manages and is responsible for a very large open source project and so he has gone through a lot of the pain of dealing with an open source project and dealing with different personalities, people of various skill levels and contributors. You know, all that sort of jazz, and so there was a lot that I was able to take away from that discussion, took back and we didn't discussed as a core team. Some really nice things have come out of that, some really nice ideas and also just a general sense of how difficult it is to manage an open source project and to sort of do so in a way that doesn't offend people that want to contribute and doesn't make the barrier to entry so high, but at the same time acknowledging that this is difficult. It's security software and it's not the sort of thing that we want to leave open to making very many mistakes. So yeah, there was that.
That was kind of the end of the Brussels meetup and then pretty much from there, the next day I went straight through to Paris. I took the train to Paris, which was kind of exciting. It was one of the high-speed trains, the Thalyss one. First time I have ever been on a high-speed train, well I mean one like that. We've got a reasonably fast train in Johannesburg, that goes pretty much from to the airport into and around parts of Johannesburg. But I mean, this was really like a different story, that train was crazy. Then I got to Paris and met up with my wife, she didn't come to Brussels, but she joined me in Paris and so we got to run around the city and do the normal Parisian thing. Like the tourist thing, go to see the Eiffel tower, go see Versailles, all the touristy stuff. Then we had the meetup and it was kind of challenging. Obviously David organized that and we had a very nice turnout there, quite a few people. I would say at the Paris meetup we probably ended up with like between 30 and 40 people at a guess. The Brussels meetup a little bit less than that, but also quite well attended. It was quite challenging, because obviously in France and Paris in particular, a lot of the locals don't really have a need to speak English or to speak much English. So there was a language barrier, whereas in Brussels it seemed that pretty much everyone spoke English with no problem. So David reckons that about 50% of the audience their English was not fantastic. It's difficult because when you are talking and speaking in English. You see some people whose eyes are lighting up and they're obviously understanding what you're saying, but then you are not sure of the other people. They are looking at you and you sort of going well they seem to be understanding, everything is great. Or hey, that guy looks a bit bored, but that's fine. But I realized, especially with some of the jokes I told. I mean I am not very frivolous, but I threw out the occasional joke or two and then some of them I had to repeat before the audience got it. It was still fun though. I think if I had to do the Paris meetup again I probably want to do it with someone translating to reduce that sort of gap between me and the audience. But still had a lot of fun there, met lots of cool people and met some of the Monero contributers who live there or who live in France. Met some of the guys that operate mining pools in France and that sort of thing.
Oh cool, there is a lot of them there.
So that was nice and then pretty much from there went back to Berlin (a few days after that) and then we had the Berlin Meetup. Which was on a Sunday, sort of late afternoon / early evening. It was a public holiday, so I think a lot of people were not in the right frame of mind to go to a meetup, but we had a nice turnout nonetheless. We were joined by Risto (Risto Pietila) and some of his friends from Finland and one of Risto's associates, Ally, gave a nice talk on Monero as a private store of value (as a private store of wealth) after I had given my presentation, which was quite interesting. Then Risto spoke a little bit as well. I am very hesitant to talk about Monero as an investment, because I don't believe it's an investment. I believe it should be used and should be useful. If you buy Monero and then expect it to magically go up, you probably end up getting burned, because that is not the way it works. Normally when people ask me how can make money with Monero I encourage them to contribute to the ecosystem. Create an application, website or whatever. That's where you going to make money, not from buying, holding and hoping something happens. So I am always kind of hesitant with conversations like that, but there was a lot that I learned from Ally and Risto's presentation that I hadn't thought of before in terms of how Monero can be useful to certain classes of people as a private store of value. They also spoke about cryptocurrency in general being a new asset class. That also lent itself quite nicely to a general discussion of why the privacy in Monero is so important to fungibility of private store of value. So that was Berlin and afterwards we went out for some food and beer. Well, never have I walked so much in my life as I did in Europe. Everyone walks everywhere and everyone drives everywhere. That's always fun, but you get used to it. Then a few days later we had the Bitcoin meetup, there were 3 speakers: Myself, one of the gals that works on Ethereum and the lady that started up Zipcar, which is a car sharing service, but one of the first ones.
Oh yeah, I use Zipcar.
She's just written a book and she spoke a little bit about how she envisions Bitcoin and general blockchain technology being used in the future. Then the gal from Ethereum spoke about creating an almost like a chain of authenticity or custody, so that you are able to take a product and then know it's supply chain and then know where comes from. Like if I am buying organic wine does it really come from an organic farm and do they get their stuff from another organic farm. I know that there is a large movement at the moment to have verifiable supply chains. Who knows, maybe there is something interesting that will happen in that space. Whether it needs to be decentralized is a different conversation, but I do think there is scope for cryptographically verifiable supply chains amongst certain groups and in certain spaces. Then I spoke about OpenAlias, which everyone knows about. I spoke a little bit about the cottage industries that are starting to pop up that are providing OpenAlias services. I mean you can purchase OpenAlias identities and so on. That's what I think is quite cool, I think there is a lot of scope there. That was pretty much Berlin.
Then I went to the Netherlands, to Amsterdam. Which was quite exciting, because I went there for Bitcoinference, but also because Amsterdam and the Netherlands in general has been quite a hub of Bitcoin activity. So I was quite excited about that. I was a little disappointed in Amsterdam itself, because I found that there were a lot of places still on Coinmap that say: We accept bitcoin or have a bitcoin ATM, but then you go there and (a) they don't accept bitcoin anymore because there was a lack of purchases with bitcoin, but also (b) the bitcoin ATM that was there has gone missing or was stolen. But overall, Amsterdam itself was fascinating. I have never seen so many bicycles in my life. Everyone rides a bicycle and the running joke is: In Amsterdam you don't actually own a bicycle, you just borrow one until it gets stolen and you need to go borrow someone else's (because bicycle also get stolen all the time). So that made me chuckle.
Did you borrow a bicycle?
No I didn't, come on, I am South African I just drove everywhere. But that was fun. Then Bitcoinference was on that weekend and it was a Saturday and a Sunday. Also, nice turnout. It was the whole day, there were like 5-7 speeches/talks every day and lots of really interesting stuff as well. There was one talk from a professor at one of the Universities who was speaking about the definition of money, whether bitcoin qualifies as money and how we define money. He also spoke about how bitcoin has many of the properties of money, but he feels that the lack of privacy and therefore the lack of fungibility makes Bitcoin not money, because it just doesn't have enough of the properties.
Well, wouldn't you know!
The funny thing is, he said all of that and I was the next speaker. Unfortunately his speech got moved up, because he had to leave (he was supposed to be after me). So right after doing this entire talk how Bitcoin could be money if it was more private, he is like: "Ok, thank you very much" and off he goes. I talk next and I am like: "Well, thank you for the introduction, I am so sorry he is not going to be around to hear my talk". Which was kind of sad, but anyway. I did manage to record my slides and my audio, so I am going to put that up. It will go up with this missive, so that people can download it and have a listen to the presentation and see the slides at the same time. Bitcoinference also recorded me and they will put together a more complete video for all of the presentations. It's definitely well worth watching that presentation on whether Bitcoin is money and so on. So that will go up so that at least people can see the talk and get a bit of a feel for what the audience was asking afterwards and so.
Just as a little primer, did you talk about Monero at the Bitcoinference or was it sort of a general privacy talk?
No it was about Monero, it was entirely about Monero. It wasn't anything else, like unrelated. It was 100% about Monero. A lot of the conversations that we had, especially afterwards and some of the things I speak about in that talk are about Monero as it relates to other efforts. With Bitcoin privacy for instance. As it relates to other altcoins that are trying to do privacy and also as it relates to some of the future advances that are being done, especially in the Zerocoin/Zerocash space. I try to be as realistic as possible and acknowledge Monero's weaknesses and failings which I think is important in general so that people at least got a realistic view and that people understand how Monero works a lot better and how Monero could be useful to people. Again, not as a replacement for Bitcoin, but just as something that can be useful along with Bitcoin.
Yeah, I'm interested to hear how what you said during the presentation and how the concept was received in general. So yeah, I look forward to seeing that post
We also had a couple of people that are Monero contributors that were there. One guy came from Sint-Petersburg in Russia. He has contributed to Monero Core and he is doing some Monero related stuff. So that was quite nice to meet him in Amsterdam. So it was really a nice to meet people you normally only see their nickname on a screen. You don't even see their real name. So it was really special and I really enjoyed meeting people face to face.
So meeting the people that contribute to the Monero ecosystem is definitely something that I would like to keep doing in the future.
So after you presentation, was their anything else worthy of reporting?
Oh there wasn't really anything else major that I did afterwards. However, I went to the next day. But I went to Arnhem. It's quite a little hub for Bitcoin activity in the Netherlands. I think that's because Arnhem is smaller than Amsterdam and so they're able to cover more of the shops and also the Bitcoin advocates are then able to use the places more. Obviously Amsterdam is so large that if 100 places accept Bitcoin then no one is going to all of those 100 places. They just keep going to the 3-4 places they like. I think in a smaller town it's easier to have a more broad coverage.
I haven't heard about that town.
Neither had I but I was quite pleasantly surprised when I got there.I could go to different places and pay with BTC. It really is quite a vibrant buzzing cryptocurrency community there. So anyone who is going to the Netherlands, you got to do Amsterdam obviously but Arnhem is worth making the trip. It's an hour by train and from Amsterdam and it 's definitely worth going there and meeting up with some of the Bitcoin guys going to some of the places. We went to a really nice Mexican restaurant that accepts bitcoin for example. They had fantastic food and really nice mojito's so if you heading for Europe and then try to seek up Bitcoin accepting places just purely to keep giving them the feeling it's worthwhile accepting it.
I think they weren't open to accepting Monero yet?
Well, we had lots of conversations with the places that are already accepting Bitcoin, especially at the place where the Bitcoin embassy is in Amsterdam.
A bitcoin embassy?! That's awesome!
Well, it's not like them accepting Monero will make them any less of an Bitcoin embassy. By the way, it's more the restaurant that's attached to the Bitcoin embassy, not the embassy themselves
It's something like we're giving people a choice to pay with one or the other. This is advantageous for merchants but I also think that there's a lot of infrastructure that can be leveraged at the moment. If merchants are really used to accepting it or firing up Blockchain.info or running electrum or whatever for accepting Bitcoin payments, it's not such a massive leap to start accepting Monero payments. Obviously that will only improve with time as systems get build out and so one. So we'll see how that goes, but I'm not a very big believer in merchant adoption being key for adoption. I think we've seen with bitcoin already that having massive amounts of merchant adoption hasn't helped with getting Bitcoin into the hands of people.
There are some side projects where i' ve been working on for a while with some guys to try to improve that ecosystem not only for Bitcoin, but also for Monero as well. So we're helping people to get and to earn Bitcoin and Monero rather than to say to the people: "well there's a thousand places where you can spend it but sorry you need to go through this complicated process to buy it".
So that's kinda Fluffypony's trip to Europe.
The Magical Mystery Tour in a nutshell
Yes, unfortunately I didn't make any T-shirts for it to wear, with all the places I've gonna be performing at.
Fluffypony on tour 2015 Europe, yeah!
As a really brief recap based on what I get from this conversation it sounds like at the first meetup, you had the ZeroMQ guy there and the big takeaway was that you guys had to sit down and hash out how to gain more knowledge on managing an open source project. You brainstormed about this scheduled hard fork idea which has been a great conversation to follow on the forum if anyone hasn't tuned in to that yet. That post I recommend especially if you are interested in Monero and assuming you listening to this podcast, you want to know what it's doing and where it's going. Check out that thread, it's on forum.getmonero.org in the academic and technical section.
So that was the first one and then the second one was France do I have this right?
Yes, it was Paris after Brussels.
Ok, Paris after Brussels. It sounds like there was just a language barrier there.
No, it was good and there was really good feedback afterwards but I think there were some people that struggled to follow what I was saying because I didn't really slowed down. I gave it like I normally gave it. I didn't make the connection between being in Paris and people speaking French. For some reason my brain blanked out on that. I thought I was speaking to an English audience and I like remembered it afterwards.
Oh you know, you get caught up in the moment presenting. It's a general exciting thing so yeah…and from their was it Amsterdam next or am I missing something?
No, Berlin was in between then Amsterdam.
Yeah, I already forgot what happened there.
We had a meetup there and It was cool.
And then the coinference. I just like saying "coinference" I think.
I was like "man, when I read the name…This guy has the best domain…bitcoinference.com. You can't get better than that, if you will have a Bitcoin conference". He really scored there.
Awesome! It sounds like it was a great trip and you got to spread the Good Word of Monero. One of the question I had was…You were doing your general presentation about Monero to audiences that hadn't either heard of it or had heard of it but only knew it as how generally people think of altcoins. I mean what was the sense from these people? Were they like "oh, why do we need this? I get the privacy thing but can't bitcoin eventually do that?" Anything that really stands out from that? Because we are sort of in an echo chamber in the Monero community. We all believe in this different concept like privacy and fungibility and the utility of having a secondary currency…We've seen the conversations on the various fora of what the Monero community thinks of sidechains for example. So being in this echo chamber we miss a perspective. SO I'm curious if anything really stood out like "oh, that's something that we haven't heard of in the echo chamber" ?
I think some of the things that jumped out at me are that there is a general misconception that Bitcoin is private enough. I think that the Bitcoin core maintainers are quite happy to acknowledge that Bitcoin is not private at all. I understand that there are a lot of Bitcoin purists that can't imagine that there could be anything else that could also be useful on any level, but I think for the most part there is a general acknowledgment at least amongst technical people I speak too that Bitoin is amazing and literally is THE ONLY cryptocurrency right now. But then Monero could also provide some value someday as a truly fungible cryptocurrency. It's important speaking too people and having a chat with them. Some of the stuff that surprised me is those people didn't realize what we really mean when we speak about privacy within Bitcoin. We are not talking about how to privately buy drugs. We're talking about no one can determine my net worth or not being implicitly linked to a crime through blockchain analysis, whereas with Bitcoin I could receive tainted funds without wanting to or realizing it. So there is all stuff like that that came out.
The other thing we had a lot of conversations about was the fact that within Bitcoin and within other altcoins there is a lot of "privacy theater" and "decentralized theater" as well.
So privacy theater and decentralized theater is basically when something put on a show of being private and being decentralized. I"ll give you an example: there is a lot of conversation recently about ripple. Is it a cryptocurrency and it is decentralized? The reality is that there is a lot that you can do to sort of run your own component within the ripple network, but it's not decentralized. At best we can say ripple is distributed. But distributed and decentralized are different things. So obviously Ripple can claim to be decentralized and then they can say "look anyone can run you this or that" but that's not the same as being truly decentralized. What happens is that you end up with in that case decentralized theater where people might mistakenly expect or assume that Ripple is decentralized. The same goes for a lot of these altcoins, and altcoins are particularly bad at this, that have centralized mixing build into their wallet and then they pretend that they are somehow private. What they sometimes even do is hosting a couple of servers and use an API and a website to handle the mixing. And then they go like "see, it's hosted on more than one server" but again that's not the same as being decentralized, that's merely distributed. So there again we've got privacy theater and decentralized theater because the privacy that they are adding is not privacy to the level of being fungible.
The fungibility thing is a big one because there are lots of solutions for being relatively private. For example with Bitcoin, if you want to be relatively private I really like joinmarket. Joinmarket is this decentralized way to link people together that want to do coinjoin transactions and it provides significantly more privacy than a lot of other solutions that I've seen including a lot of altcoin solutions but the problem is while it provides privacy, it doesn't provide enough so that it makes Bitcoin fungible. It‘s a great solution and I encourage people to take a look at joinmarket but I think there has be an understanding that it can only do so much. It can take Bitcoin up to a point if everyone uses it, but not to a point that Bitcoin can truly be fungible. Just like with Monero , just like we understand the limitations and we are happy to talk about the limitations and the potential pitfalls, I think that it's important to look at all the other solutions and view them with the same realism and pragmatism.
…but I do talk about JoinMarket and all those other things in my presentation so there's that.
So check out the presentation!
Pretty much. And that's about it.
Awesome! Well, thank you for the recap and thanks for fitting the Monero meetups and all that stuff into your family vacation tour thing. It definitely adds a level to any trip.
It wasn't just work or pleasure. It was a good trip and there were lots of projects that I'm working on at the moment where the developers and some of my business partners are scattered around Europe. So being able to meet up with those guys as well was advantageous. So well I mean things are looking good and we've had lots of positive feedback and I'm sure when people watch the presentation they also hopefully learn a little bit about Monero's inner workings if they don't understand it already.
I think I might be still a freshmen when it comes to that. Maybe I graduate to sophomore class soon.
Well, I mean you are a developer so you know…
Oh yes, much develop.
I'm just saying…Gingeropolous, lead developer of Gingeropolous Software Incoproated
Yeah, yes, that's me!
Well, now that you're back from the Mystery Tour, we've got a lot of missive to post, that's for sure. I assume we post this one first because everyone is full of anticipation about what happened. So this will go up first so if you are listening now, you are obviously listening now…So after this one we will post the other ones that are in the hopper. So yeah, tune in next week!
Now we can go back to a normal schedule.
Yeah or a schedule, either way
But it would be really a schedule.
I just want to make sure that everyone knows that when you write dates you put them year-month-day and you also measure things in meters and grams.
No no, you measure them in English units and metrics units so when you send probes to Mars you screw up and loose hundreds of millions of dollars
Yeah, oh dear we just overshot everything
…because you are actually using metric.
Yes, but I agree year-month-day is the way to do it. Makes file searching so much easier indeed.
Indeed, exactly right?
Yeah, it's incredible!
Ok cool thanks for the chat and we'll chat again next week
Yeah, thanks for tuning in!